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Know Your Role: Celtics' Re-Start Success Hinging on Bench Players

Updated: Aug 19, 2020

With the resumption of the NBA season getting closer and closer, most Celtics fans seem to be focused on a select few topics concerning the team's outlook this summer. How well will Jayson Tatum perform? Can Kemba Walker flourish in these playoffs? They're even wondering whether or not Tacko Fall will be with the team. And, while these are perfectly valid questions to be asking at a time like this, they’re probably not the right ones.

To start, we already know that Jayson Tatum is a superstar. He’s clearly proven that he can be "the guy" for a team during the regular season; he even showed the world flashes of dominance in the playoffs during his rookie year. Kemba Walker is an All-Star as well, even starting, if you recall, for Team Giannis in February's All-Star game. Everyone recognizes that he’s a great player and even if he doesn’t play to his full potential in the playoffs, he’s still sure to be solid. Tacko Fall is entertaining to both fans meme creators alike - and could honestly turn into a solid piece for the Celtics down the line - but it won’t happen this year. Whether or not he travels with the team to Orlando really isn’t relevant to the Celtics' playoff dreams.

So, now that we've pretty much covered those topics, you're likely wondering "well, what are the right questions to ask, then?" Look no further, as we're here to give you a few examples:

  • Will Semi Ojeleye and Grant Williams be able to consistently hit their shots?

  • Can Enes Kanter return to his early season form?

  • Will Robert Williams III be at full health?

It’s not a matter of whether Boston’s star players will be effective, because that’s a fairly safe assumption; the real question is whether its role players can effectively...well, play their role.

Let’s start out with the first two players mentioned: Semi Ojeleye and Grant Williams. I actually view them as pretty similar players, with Semi being more of a wing and Grant more of a big. The primary issue with them both has been their ability to consistently knock down shots. Semi has often been the "Giannis stopper" in previous Celtics playoff runs and has guarded him more than any other Celtic once again this season. Grant Williams, though a rookie, slowly emerged as one of the league’s most promising defenders this year. The defense is there and, to be honest, there have even been some glimpses of more consistent shooting, too. Ever since ending his huge 0/25 cold streak to start the year, Grant’s been about a league average three point shooter (35%). Even Semi has seen an improvement this year (36.7% from three); we even saw a flash of something special against the Cavaliers back on March 4th (22 points, 5/8 from three). Boston needs them both on the floor for their defense, but if they can become decent or even reliable three point threats in the playoffs, the Celtics' chances of winning it all will increase exponentially.

Then, there are the two centers referred to earlier: Enes Kanter and Robert Williams III. While Daniel Theis is the clear starter for the C’s in my book, there's a real need for a true backup center on the roster. Grant Williams has had some run at that spot this year, but he’s only 6' 6" and a little undersized for it. Enes and Rob are the best options for Boston's backup center in theory, but both have underlying issues that could hinder them. Kanter hasn’t been the same since coming back from his mid-season injury; beforehand, he put up some crazy stat lines, such as his performances against the Lakers (18 points, 11 rebounds) and the Pelicans (22 points, 19 rebounds). Since the injury, though, we just haven't seen that same guy step onto the court. In fact, since sustaining his injury, he’s posted only two double-doubles, compared to the seven he recorded previously. When Kanter does record a double-double this season, the Celtics are undefeated (9-0). So, if he can revert to pre-injury form, Brad Stevens has that much more depth to work with and the Celtics are that much better of a basketball team.

As for Robert Williams III, he’s been a huge question mark for a large portion of his brief career to this point. He’s definitely shown flashes this year and was even seeing around 15 minutes per game for the Celtics just before the shutdown. Unfortunately for Rob, the timing of the season being cut short couldn't have been worse, as he was just starting to get his legs under him. Williams is a block machine, plays with lots of energy and can catch lobs better than almost anyone on the Celtics' roster. I think of him being a DeAndre Jordan type player once he reaches his full potential. Luckily enough, the Celtics only need Rob to play about half as effectively as prime DeAndre in order for him to be useful in the playoffs. He likely won't to be asked to start, so if Rob can come off the bench, block some shots and catch some lobs, it gives Brad Stevens yet another dangerous piece to work with, just like Kanter.

So, there you have it. These are the important questions Celtics fans should be asking themselves as they eagerly wait for the season to resume. In order for the team to make noise this postseason, it's less about its stars and much more about its depth. This is the area where Boston has struggled all season, in my opinion. There have been little to no consistent bench scoring options for Brad Stevens to rely on and having players like Kanter, Grant, Semi and even Rob raise their game can help solve that issue. If the Celtics’ role players can manage to do their part effectively in the coming months, Boston could be seeing that 18th banner sooner than anyone expected.

- Jack


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